The perfect package

Sales and marketing professionals explain the challenges they face

[L-R] Rohit Rattan, Emma Fraser, Leon Salinel, Lin Aydin and Hotelier ME editor Louise Oakley
[L-R] Rohit Rattan, Emma Fraser, Leon Salinel, Lin Aydin and Hotelier ME editor Louise Oakley

Sales and marketing hotel professionals took some time out at Raffles Dubai’s ‘Air’ presidential suite to reflect on current challenges in their sector and share some solutions

GETTING TO KNOW YOU: HOTELIER’S EXPERT PANEL

Rohit Rattan
Head of sales and marketing — hospitality division, Wafi

Rohit Rattan began his career with Starwood in Doha and joined Jumeirah in 1999 as part of the pre-opening team for Emirates Towers. He then moved into corporate office and spent six years with the group in total, before moving onto The Chedi, Muscat, where he was assistant director of sales and marketing.

Prior to his current role with Wafi, Rattan did the pre-opening with Six Senses Spa in Doha and had a year outside of hotels. At Wafi, Rattan heads up the sales and marketing for Arabian Park Hotel, 12 F&B outlets at Wafi Pyramids and Cleopatra’s Spa.

Emma Fraser
Director of marketing and communications
Raffles Dubai

A new addition to the Raffles Dubai team, Emma Fraser is both overseeing marketing and PR for the property and looking to represent the brand on a regional level as it gears up to open hotels in Makkah, Paris and the Seychelles. Fraser started her career in Australia with IHG and was promoted to Western Australia regional marketing manager, and then moved to Sydney to look after the Australia, New Zealand and South Pacific region, which comprised 47 hotels. She then took up a role heading up marketing and communications with the Westin in Sydney, before being approached by Jumeirah to move to Dubai. Fraser worked first at Jumeirah Beach Hotel and then was promoted into her most recent role as global director of brand and marketing for Jumeirah. She left last April and spent some time traveling and consulting before joining Raffles.

Leon Salinel
Director of Sales & Marketing
Dusit Thani Dubai

Leon Salinel has been based in the Middle East for the past 12 years and always worked in hotel sales. He started his career with the pre-opening of the Ritz-Carlton in Dubai in 1998, and moved on to open Fairmont Dubai in 2002 as a senior sales manager, also responsible for F&B marketing. At the end of 2007, when everyone was feeling the pinch at the start of the downturn, Salinel moved to Ritz-Carlton Bahrain as director of sales. After 21 months in that role, he moved to Dubai at the end of last year to join Dusit Thani as director of sales and marketing.

Lin Aydin
Director of sales
Radisson Blu Hotel, Dubai Deira Creek

Having studied tourism and hospitality management, Lin Aydin started her career in Turkey with Accor. She began in the front office and moved into sales, where she has worked ever since. Aydin worked for the Renaissance brand and then eight years ago came to Dubai to join Habtoor Hotels. She has now held her current role at Radisson Blu Hotel, Dubai Deira Creek for three years.

Can you outline how your sales and marketing team is structured and where the current focus is?

Emma Fraser: Sue Wheatley is our director of sales and marketing, and then we have a director of events and she has a team of five. Then under Sue there are around seven reps and sales managers, then myself as director of marketing and communications, and I have a marketing manager, a PR manager and I’m also looking at getting a digital marketing and distribution manager later this year.

Rohit Rattan: I’ve got a team of four people, three focusing on sales at the Arabian Park hotel.

There is a team of three people at Wafi — where we have 12 restaurants — and two of these have a combined role of sales and marketing, targeting leisure inbound travel. They all work independently so it’s three units.

Lin Aydin: In sales we are eight including me, and we have a director of marketing and communications and she has a marketing co-ordinator. We have four in event sales.

Leon Salinel: I have a team of 25. There’s two for mar-comm, eight with reservations and revenue as well, and we’re looking for an eCommerce manager at the moment. There are three / four events and eight proactive sales.

We’re actually down by 60 across the hotel but I’m still hiring for sales and marketing. I’d like to do more digital marketing, that’s where it’s heading. I would like more of my people on advertising, digital marketing — that is where people are tending to look at hotels.

How do you support the growth of online marketing and advertising and related tools such as social media?

EF: It’s on my wish list now but what will definitely be put into budget over the next 12 months is the digital marketing role. Social media is very paramount to the trends of the consumer as well as to how we communicate with consumers, the clients, the local residents etc. And then I also want to tie it in with the distribution, so it will be using the GDS channels as well etc. It will come under me but support the sales channels. It’s definitely a position that is pretty much going to be a norm in the next five years.

LS: It is very important that your property is visible on GDS. Not a lot of people are particularly interested in putting ads on the GDS, they don’t realise how important it is. I’m losing out a lot when I look at the GDS revenue that we get as opposed to our competitors, there’s obviously an opportunity for us to go in there and that’s what we’re working on now.

RR: If I was given the opportunity I would definitely have somebody added on to my team there. I would say more in terms of an integrated role in sales and marketing, and online and digital marketing for the hotel, because that seems to be moving quite fast and that’s the in-thing now.

People don’t have the budget to go and spend a lot in other marketing mediums, so online is where I look at.

LA: At the moment Stephanie [director of marketing and communications] is handling all the social media, but I think soon we will also need someone to handle that because it takes a lot of time. We had a regional sales and marketing meeting last week and the presenter came and talked about social media, which is something as a company Rezidor is taking quite seriously.

How do you monitor how social media increases visibility?

LS: There is a company RevNet out of the US and they can pull out how many times your property has been mentioned on any social media, from Twitter to Facebook to TripAdvisor. Now 36% of the total population of the UAE is on facebook — over the last six months, there has been an 11% growth. We’re not on Facebook yet and again I see that as an opportunity as we’re still building, we’re a very small chain, we’ve only got 22 properties and the majority are in Thailand. As much as we’ve been here for the last nine years our social media has not been established so that is an opportunity for us to look into, because a lot of the hotels are now on Facebook and so what we can do is look at what works and what doesn’t, and then we can formulate it from that.

What challenges are you currently facing in your role?

RR: My challenge right now is basically from the Wafi brand — we all know Wafi and what it was, it was the place to hang out. Dubai has so many options now and is expanding, you have the Marina, JBR, The Walk etc, so the crowd sort of moved away. Our objective or challenge is to bring people back. I’m not saying bring people back from the Marina because that is a different segment altogether, but to bring the buzz back into Wafi.

When business is good we all sort of sit back and enjoy business coming in. You have profits, people walking in, great footfall. We need to get the brands back into the market, everybody knows about them, the brand awareness is there, it’s just a matter of re-emphasising it and what we have, what we offer and the diverse offering that we have. You’ve got the mall, you’ve got Khan Murjan Souk, which not a lot of people know about, and you’ve got the Pyramids, the spa and the restaurants, it’s all interlinked. It’s one destination.

With Raffles being over here, I’m sure the mall is quite an integral part of your property. You have a lot of locals that utilise the property. We’re trying to build that together and bring the residents back by promoting the offerings.

Again, marketing plays a key role. We’ve got a Facebook page and that’s pretty active — you want to make it more interactive rather than just posting things. Initially it would be interesting to see, but you’ve got to engage people to link in there and come over to your outlets.

EF: They need to become ambassadors to your brand, interacting via social media.

How do Wafi and Raffles work together to market the destination?

EF: In the last five / six weeks, we’ve had meetings and there’s definitely a very strong synergy there from my personal perspective of the hotel. There are lots of opportunities where we can partner up with Wafi and that is what I’m trying to engage in now, so we will cross promote and cross pollinate.

To our guests we’re looking at the charge back option to the outlets in the pyramids. We actually have the Select card for tourists so we give that to our guests on check-in to encourage them to go to the mall. We’d also encourage those Select members to come back and target them with offers, whether it’s rooms, F&B etc.

We’re actually looking now at the bigger picture, which will probably be at the end of the year, to do something as a Raffles / Wafi destination, so we’ll do it through the marketing campaign we’re talking about now and drive the traffic in the GCC. Poor Wafi at the moment with all these other malls around, we really want to drive this as another choice of destination.

What about the sales and marketing challenges facing hotels located on Sheikh Zayed Road?

LS: The challenge we are facing right now is that the economic downturn has affected the corporate business, from our positioning as a business hotel on SZR, we’ve probably lost about 50% of the business. With the number of hotels opening like Rose Rayhaan and a number of four-star properties around SZR, obviously we’re losing a lot of business within the DIFC area.

It doesn’t help that a lot of people are not travelling, you’ve got more supply than demand, so basically the strategy is just focusing on getting more clients in. We’re the only Thai chain in Dubai and we’re building our strength from there. We’re very competitive in terms of the rates now, the property is going to be refurbished to address the demand of what the client wants, so we’re putting in rooms with a refrigerator and washing machine to cater for a lot of the clients that are on a long-stay basis.

In Deira, how is business and what are the challenges?

LA: We’re still lucky, generally in Deira because it is a good mixture, it’s still a business area but it’s good for leisure as well. Occupancy in Deira hasn’t gone down, we’re always in about the 90s, but the rates are lower of course. The rates are down by 30% last year, this year we are still in the same bracket.

We are enjoying sales more now because I am doing the actual sales job, whereas 18 months ago it was just taking the calls and doing the deals. If you look at the market there are so many sales people and some of them were eliminated because they don’t know how to do actual sales. They just know how to maintain the client relationships but they don’t do actual sales because they never had to.

It was the bookers who were trying to maintain good relationships with the sales people to be able to get the rooms so in that case we were lucky, but over the last 18 months you can see in the market the actual sales people who have survived because now you start to create strategies, do promotions, find more clients, look after more markets. It is much nicer for the sales person, it was not challenging before. The holiday is over, that is what I tell my team, now it’s time to work.

Is there a difference in the sales and marketing strategy for mid-market properties such as Arabian Park Hotel?

RR: The hotel was always positioned as a mid-market property but more driven towards the corporate segment. Since the start of the economic downturn, we’ve changed our strategies at Arabian Park and it’s moved slowly from a corporate city hotel to more of a leisure hotel. The leisure mix has come in, it’s almost comprising up to 45-50%, which is quite high but that’s the trend, it’s not something that was strategised to increase business.

In terms of a comparison, I can put both my hats on, the high-end hotels as well as Arabian Park, and I don’t think there’s a lot that differs with strategy. Of course your markets are different, you have your budget clientele coming and staying in a hotel like Arabian Park, you might have the high spenders coming to your Raffles and Dusit, again it’s who you target and which market you are looking at. We’ve got volumes on both sides. You have a lot of budget travellers, you have people who want to travel and stay around the luxury end.

What about your different hats in terms of hotel, F&B and spa – which one of those has been most challenging?

RR: As of now I think it’s the F&B side. I’ve always been with hotel sales and you have the rooms but there’s an automatic flow over there — if you have the good occupancy, you have F&B driving revenues from your hotel guests as well as outsiders. If you’re restaurants are quite prominently known in Dubai then you have a lot of residents going there as well and your in-house guests filling it up. With Arabian Park Hotel it’s pretty much the same concept. If I’m running on a good occupancy then my F&B revenue goes up, but with Wafi it’s a challenge because I’m bringing in residents from Dubai and I’m looking at bringing in people that have come to Dubai — tourists who are there for four or five days, but they wouldn’t come in every day to dine.

In terms of strategies that work when promoting F&B, what attracts local residents to dine at your property?

LA: Today it is value for money. There are so many promotions going on, in our hotel as well. For summer now, we have during the World Cup in our English pub an offer where one winner each day will get 31% off of their bill, representing the 31 days of the World Cup. We have a progressive dinner too in our three Asian restaurants so you have to be more creative. People get to try all three restaurants so it is very good value for money.

Do people get confused by promotions and just want more affordable pricing?

EF: I think you’re right, in terms of having to keep at a level, but promotions work really well. It’s how loyal the guests are to that hotel, to that restaurant, it just really depends how they’re working towards that. We’ve just launched Raffles Roast to take a different look at brunches. It’s a matter of positioning that in the market and really building that forward now and making it a stable branded product.

LS: We’re giving options to our clients — gone are the days when you would give out just one rate [for brunch]. We have the Quick Bites offer, AED 2 per minute for lunch and AED 3 per minute for dinner. Whether that is popular or not people are talking about it and you need to make sure that people will talk about you. We need to maintain the presence in the market. I think it’s about value for money and you have to make sure you win your diners’ loyalty, I think based on the quality of the food and service.

RR: I think we’ve learned that people are spending their money more carefully. Every hotel is running some sort of promotion today, whether its brunches or dinners.

So how do you compete?

EF: You have to compete and you have to be competitive in the market but you have to maintain your strategy. Going back to what you were saying about three-star versus five-star, I think Dubai years ago was so set as a five-star destination, but people have the options now, the three- and four- and five-star hotels really open it up to give the consumer, particularly for groups and MICE and corporate options. It now becomes an international city of choice as opposed to a destination to go to the beach

LA: But because five-star rates are lower and we are competing with four-star hotels, we are getting the four-star business, then four stars are getting the three-star business and so they can’t really sell with the higher rates.

RR: It’s literally a domino effect.

LS: There’s no rate parity at all.

RR: There is no capping because people are going out and selling ridiculous rates.

EF: This is a good opportunity now for us to look at emerging markets. We’re focusing on India and China, South America is another big one. Yes we know what’s happening here, we know the rates are very low, it dictates now that the strategy from Sue’s perspective has to shift and we’re really focusing on those more emerging markets and we’ll target them for leisure but also for corporate business.

What is your forecast for business during the second half of the year?

LA: We’ve already started with the summer and Ramadan promotions and we also did special meetings, now we are working on the iftar packages, it has already started. From June we are ready with all our corporate and leisure promotions, and want to work more closely with our partners. In 2009 most MICE business stopped but this year it has started picking up.

LS: It’s so difficult because it really is so last minute. I’ve received contracts signed and I’ve been receiving a lot of queries for the last quarter of the year already and I’m hoping that this trend is going to continue. At least you know that’s an indication that people are ready to buy six months out.

Sales and marketing challenges

  • Lower rates and a lack of rate parity are causing a domino effect, with five-star hotels taking four-star business, four-star hotels taking three-star business and so on.
  • F&B is the toughest area to market, because consumers are prioritising value for money and have many different promotions to choose from.
  • New developments in Dubai, such as The Walk in JBR, have captured the interest of the public, meaning a strong sales and marketing strategy is needed to bring guests back to areas such as Wafi.
  • A 50% drop in corporate business is continuing to impact Sheikh Zayed Road Hotels.
  • More staff needed to focus on digital marketing and social media.

What are your views on the issues raised? Send them to: louise.oakley@itp.com

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